A Defense of Intelligent Femininity
I must disagree with my illustrious Lord and Master’s opinion on marriage and equality. I believe that equality is extraordinarily important in marriage. However, before one jumps into such a discussion, it is important to define one’s terms.
By equality, I mean the kind of respect that equals give to one another.
I do not mean “sameness.”
Employees in a well-run company treat each other as equals. This does not mean that they assume that they can do each others tasks with equal competence. Just because the carpenter and the chef are equal in the eyes of their co-workers and superiors does not mean that the manager is going to send the carpenter to the kitchen and the chef to make a table.
A man and a woman entering into a marriage should be equal in a similar respect. They should treat each other as equals in the same way that the carpenter and chef might – neither being regarded as a lower class citizen. This does not, however, mean that they are equally suited to each others tasks.
John was a fair hand at changing diapers, though he screamed a lot when they were smelly, and he is great at putting the children to bed. My sister-in-law once watched him in amazement. She told me that my brother-in-law had never changed a diaper or put the children to bed.
Does this mean that our marriage was good and theirs was bad, because we both put the children to bed equally? Not at all! Their apportioning of tasks was merely different from ours. They were equal in their marriage, too, but they were aware that they were not the same.
It is hard in this day and age to be an intelligent woman and to feel feminine. We are bombarded with ideas from society and the media that suggests that if we don’t act and think like men, we are weak, we are not of any worth. There are very few role models that show us someone who is quick-minded, active, and competent, and yet feminine. It is so easy for women to come away with the idea that they need to be as strident and as rigid as a man.
When I was young, I despised anything that suggested I was not the equal of any man. I was determine to hold my own among men. I hated having doors held for me. I carried all my own bags. All this came to an end in the last days of my first pregnancy.
I was coming back from the grocery store and trying to handle the grocery bags despite being big as a house (actually, I was someone’s house,) and I was practically in tears. Suddenly, I looked over and saw two strong men, John and our friend Bill, walking along behind me. They were talking avidly and carrying absolutely nothing (because I had insisted on taking everything,) and I thought: why in the world aren’t I putting them to work?
And suddenly, having someone carry something for me no longer seemed like an insult, it seemed like a luxury! Something wonderful that I was insane not to appreciate! The same thing with opening doors. A fit young women can afford to sneer at door-openers, but once I was a mother, lugging around that extremely heavy and awkward baby carrier with my darling little fellow in it, I was overjoyed if someone was so thoughtful as to open a door for me!
This really changed my view on the whole thing.
But this was just the final straw in a journey that began with two things:
The first was joining the local feminists club at college. As a girl, I had always thought of myself as a feminist. Certainly, I was in favor of freedom and equality in nearly any form. So, I thought feminism sounded like the place for me…until I found out that the other feminists did not like men.
Well, I LOVED men. I thought they were absolutely fascinating and delightful. At that moment, I parted ways with the modern feminists, and I’ve never looked back. (I still think of myself as being a sister to the Suffragettes, though. Every time I hear the mother on Mary Poppins sing about how “Our daughter’s daughters will adore us” for getting women the vote, I think “Hear! Hear!”)
The second thing that impressed me was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The book is known for its politics, but it was the love story that impressed me. Dagny Taggart is practically the epitome of a strong, clever, capable woman, and yet, when she fell in love with Hank Reardon, she gloried in her femininity. There is a passage where they are having dinner, and he gives her a fur coat where the author actually spells out what Dagny thinks about the whole thing and why, despite her great power, she delights in this gift.
Reading this passage was the first time I found anyone put into words what I felt…which was that femininity is not at odds with intelligence and competence, that the two are perfectly able to complement each other. That, if anything, being more intelligent and competent allows you to be more feminine, and that being a man’s equal in worldly things does not mean giving up the glory and wonder of being a woman.
One of the problems for modern women is language. We describe the feminine qualities with words such as “surrender,” and “submission.” These words imply a loss of dignity (the opposite of respect.) They are words that men have used for centuries to describe the losers in a contest of strength. Enemies surrender, victims submit. Even yielding is what a knight does on the field of battle when he accepts that he has lost.
Real femininity is nothing like that! A better word would be “trust.”
Have you ever I participated a Trust Fall, where you stand on something and fall backwards, trusting that the other people in your group will catch you? It can be quite difficult. I still remember standing there, trying to get myself to fall back, and just not believing that the other folks would catch me. Then, just before one falls, there comes this moment when you have to trust. You make a decision to release control – in my case, clinging to the tree – and you let go. Then you fall, free and joyous, until you are caught and borne up by your fellows. That feeling of trusting and falling – it is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world!
Now, you could use words like “surrender” or “yield” to describe what it feels like to let go and fall…but this experience has nothing to do with loss, with being beaten down, or with any of the other concepts that jump to mind. Rather, what you are doing is letting go and flying – safe in the knowledge that someone will catch you.
In my experience, true femininity feels like that. It is much like a trust fall – and like a trust fall, it’s something you would not want to experience with someone who was not worth trusting!
And that, ladies, is the key! Respect. Marriage is based upon respect. If you respect each other – if you treat each other with care, as you would want to be treated – then it is no burden to yield. Rather than a sense of loss, there comes that feeling of letting go and, with it, a feeling of joyous freedom. It feels much more like water flowing about a rock that crashes into a pool than it feels like a tree being bent by brute force.
And, usually, at that moment of “surrender” when she finally decides to trust, what goes through her mind is not “now I’m weak. Now, I’ve lost,” but “Ah! I’ve got him now!”
Because, if done correctly, far from feeling conquered or cowed, the woman feel victorious! As if she has won, as if she is as beautiful as the night sky and as glorious, as if he is now putty in her hands. His very strength and masterfulness makes her conquest complete. He is now fascinated and confounded, and all she had to do was one small act of yielding control. Pretty good bargain!
Years ago, John ran a roleplaying game where we met an intelligent seal-creature. When asked if the seal folk minded mankind ruling the world, the creature responded in surprise, “What do you mean? We rule the world; we just leave you the dry places.”
The victory of the masculine and the victory of the feminine is much like the relationship between mankind and the kingdom of the seals. When carried out with respect, both sides win!